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Morning Rounds Megan Thielking

Pharma execs dodge attempts to pin blame for high prices

Seven drug industry executives faced the Senate Finance Committee yesterday to answer for rising drug prices — but the hearing wasn't as heated as some expected. Here's a quick rundown: 

  • The takeaway: The hearing was largely a rehashing of arguments that lawmakers and the drug industry have spent years sharpening. For the most part, the industry execs who testified dodged tougher lines of questioning, pivoting repeatedly to lines about innovation and new cures. 

  • The fireworks: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) criticized the companies, at one point calling out the price increases of AbbVie's arthritis medicine Humira. “Can patients opt for a less expensive alternative? No, they cannot, because AbbVie protects the exclusivity of Humira like Gollum with his ring," he said.

  • On a related note: Health secretary Alex Azar is talking about bringing down health care costs at the National Association of Health Underwriters meeting this morning.

STAT's D.C. reporters are holding a webinar today at 1 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the hearing. Sign up here.  

Progress could stall in Ebola response, WHO warns

The WHO warns that progress in the Ebola response in DRC is at risk of stalling. WHO-Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says there’s an urgent need for more funding as health workers continue to combat the outbreak, which has seen 872 suspected and confirmed cases, including 548 deaths. “The situation is unprecedented: there has never been an Ebola outbreak in these conditions, with such a highly mobile population and with many gaps in the health system,” he said in a statement. The response effort has faced continued challenges, including security threats and violence. On Sunday, assailants attacked and set fire to an Ebola treatment center, killing a nurse and injuring another. 

How health officials are tackling measles outbreaks

House lawmakers are convening today to talk about a critical public health threat: measles outbreaks. There are currently measles outbreaks in six areas of the U.S.: New York City, Washington state, Texas, Illinois, and two New York counties. Two top health officials will be testifying today about efforts to curb the spread of measles: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the NIH's infectious disease institute, and Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of the CDC's immunization center.

Meanwhile, the CDC's immunization committee is meeting today. On the agenda: an update on whether a new component added to flu shots after the 2009 pandemic increased the risk of miscarriage in pregnant women. Some safety data from the first two years after the pandemic raised that unexpected possibility.

Inside STAT: Bispecific antibodies are the next new thing in cancer therapy

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Illustration of a BiTE, Amgen's bispecific antibodies. (AMGEN)

It’s been less than two years since the approval of the first CAR-T treatment  — but pharma companies and biotechs are already talking about the next generation of cancer therapy. Roughly two dozen companies are developing treatments called bispecific antibodies designed to train the immune system to kill tumor cells like CAR-T. But unlike CAR-T therapies — which are difficult to manufacture — the bispecific antibodies can start being infused almost as fast as an oncologist writes a prescription. Sharon Begley has the story here for STAT Plus subscribers — read here.

Do overlapping surgeries pose a risk to patients?

Surgeons sometimes will jump from one surgery to another before the first is done, leaving junior surgeons and others to wrap up. But the practice has come under fire amid concerns it could harm patients. A new analysis of data from more than 60,000 surgeries finds that double-booking is often — but not always — safe. Overlapping surgeries didn’t increase the risk for post-surgery complications or death immediately after surgery. But people getting coronary bypass surgery and high-risk patients — like older adults and those with pre-existing conditions — had higher mortality and complication rates during concurrent procedures.

“Although overlapping surgery appears safe for the majority of patients, it may not be for all of them,” the study’s authors write in a First Opinion for STAT. “Ensuring that the benefits of the practice don’t come at the cost of patient safety is essential." 

Health agencies join forces for emergency diagnostic devices

Federal health officials are launching a new task force to speed up the development and deployment of diagnostic tests during public health emergencies. When a public health emergency like an outbreak happens, it's critical to get diagnostic tests out in the field quickly or develop new ones if needed. The FDA, CDC, and CMS all play a role: The FDA authorizes emergency use of tests, the CDC lends lab and epidemiology expertise, and CMS helps make sure labs produce accurate and timely results. Now, those agencies are joining forces to accelerate access to diagnostic tools during emergencies. 

What to read around the web today

  • When my baby was born, my husband at the time and I knew he couldn’t survive. That doesn’t make me a murderer. New York Times
  • Former Trump refugee director says he never warned higher-ups about family separations. Politico
  • Should drug users have a safe place to inject? State panel says yes. Boston Globe
  • A scientific conference invited only women on stage. Then came the backlash. STAT
  • Bill Jenkins, who tried to halt Tuskegee syphilis study, dies at 73. New York Times
  • Cat bites the hand that feeds, hospital bills $48,512. Kaiser Health News

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

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